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The New Combined Family Court

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As part of the family justice system reforms, a new combined Family Court has been created and comes into force in England and Wales today, 22nd April 2014. Simon Hughes, the Justice Minister, said it was a “hugely important change” to what had been a “very dysfunctional system”.

The reforms set out rules to ensure that:-

  • Couples who separate will be obliged to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before court proceedings regarding children and finances can be issued. The court can refuse to hear an application if the parties have not attended such a MIAM.
  • Care cases should be completed within six months.
  • There will be a limit placed on the amount of expert evidence that can be used in cases involving children.
  • There are changes in the way that children cases are dealt with. Terms such as “Residence” and “Contact” are now abolished as these were thought to focus on the rights of parents’ rather than the child’s needs. As opposed to “Residence Orders” and “Contact Orders” there will now be “Child Arrangements Orders” which will focus on the practical issues of the day-to-day care of the child and regulate arrangements relating to:-
  • With whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and
  • When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person

Baroness Butler-Sloss said ‘I congratulate the Government on their bravery as regards arrangements. Having tried cases with mothers and fathers, I do not believe that the proposal will work any better than custody and access or residence and contact. It is not the words but what happens to the child that gets one or other parent, and sometimes both parents, absolutely up in arms.’

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said that this ‘marks the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen, or will see, in our professional lifetimes. Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. There has been, indeed there had to be, a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.’

Heidi Cardoza, Head of Family Team says, “Only time will tell how effective these changes will be.”

For more information regarding children matters or any family matters please call 01202 499255 to speak to Heidi Cardoza or Andrew Stynes in our Family Team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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